Medical training fears as demand swells
The capacity of the medical training system is being stretched as the tidal wave of students that swept into the nation’s medical schools in recent years is beginning to swamp postgraduate places.
Figures compiled by the Medical Training Review Panel show that demand for second year postgraduate places has surged, jumping 23 per cent last year to reach 3101 places in 2012 – a doubling of the number in just eight years.
In a sobering warning for educators scrambling to cater for the sharp increase in demand, the Panel said the figure was likely to be an underestimate, with “unknown numbers” of doctors likely to have been recruited by health services.
The result has underlined concerns by the AMA that government have prepared poorly for the surge in medical trainees in the past 10 years, leaving many aspiring doctors at risk of missing out on vital training places and potentially wasting millions of dollars spent on educating medical graduates.
Data prepared by the Panel shows the effectiveness of efforts last decade to boost medical student numbers as a way to help address looming shortages in the medical workforce.
Last year there were 16,868 medical students – almost 120 per cent more than the number studying in 2000.
This growth has been driven by a 100 per cent increase in the number commencing medical school (3686 in 2012), while the number of domestic students who graduate rose by virtually the same percentage between 1999 and 2011.
The AMA fears a repeat of last year’s chaotic situation in which dozens of medical graduates were left in limbo for months as Commonwealth, State and Territory governments wrangled over who should pay for extra intern places.
The Panel predicts there will be 3556 medical graduates seeking internships this year, while indications are that just 3201 internships will be on offer.
AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton and Chair of the AMA Council of Doctors in Training Dr Will Milford have been vocal critics of the haphazard and patchwork approach that has so far been adopted by the nation’s government to the issue.
In a column in Australian Medicine today (to view, click here), Dr Milford has bemoaned the parochial response of State and Territory governments, which are making only half-hearted contributions to efforts to develop a national intern application system.
At the other end of the training pipeline, the number of practitioners becoming college fellows has swelled dramatically.
There were 2629 new fellows admitted across the specialties in 2011 – a 133 per cent jump from the 1126 that joined in 2000.
Of these, around 40 per cent were women and a quarter were overseas trained.
General practice continued to be the most common specialty, accounting for almost 41 per cent of fellows, followed by adult medicine (14 per cent), anaesthesia (8.5 per cent), surgery (8 per cent) and psychiatry (5 per cent).
But the sharpest growth has been in paediatrics, where the number of new fellows soared almost 120 per cent between 2007 and 2011, while radiation oncology (83 per cent) and psychiatry (82 per cent) also grew strongly over the period.
While the nation is grappling with how to provide training opportunities for medical graduates, data compiled by the Panel shows the country is still relying heavily on overseas trained medical practitioners to help plug holes in the medical workforce.
In 2011-12 visas were granted to 3560 practitioners from overseas, 40 per cent of whom were from the United Kingdom and Ireland, while 9 per cent came from India, 8.4 per cent from Malaysia, 5 per cent Sri Lanka, and 3 per cent from each of Pakistan, the Philippines and Singapore.